From sighting birds and butterflies at the World Birding Center (WBC) in Edinburg to learning about oil spill effects and management while traveling about in air boats at the port in Brownsville, students in the 2004 Teaching Environmental Sciences (TES) class at The University of Texas-Pan American will bring hands-on educational experiences about local and national environmental issues to their classrooms this fall.
Held for three weeks in July, the course has been sponsored for the last 11 years by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and offered on 19 different university campuses in Texas. The course, funded by TCEQ, provides three hours of tuition free graduate credit and 45 hours Continuing Professional Education credit from the Texas State Board for Educator Certification.
"We want to teach these teachers about their local environment - good or bad - and let them take that information back to their classrooms. Hopefully their students can help find solutions," Kelley said.
According to a TCEQ video presented to the class, research shows that students exposed to environmental education develop a high level of thinking skill and problem solving abilities and often become life-long learners.
Following careers in the chemical industry and having his own business after graduating from Pan Am 30 years ago with a degree in chemistry, Carlos Solis said he was in the class to fulfill graduate education requirements in the alternative certification program for teachers.
Now a chemistry teacher at Sharyland High School in Mission, Solis said the course will also help in the classroom "because it involves the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) science objectives which now require student knowledge of environmental systems tested by the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills).
The course includes field trips, in-class activities and discussions, student presentations, internet research and development of lesson plans.
Armed with notepads and binoculars the class eagerly gathered at the Edinburg birding center, one of the course's last field trips. The course also included trips to the waste water and water treatment plants in McAllen, the General Land Office in Brownsville, the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge and the Arroyo Colorado.
"It has generally been my experience that hands-on is one of the most meaningful ways to teach children about nature, science and ecology," she said.
Following a presentation of the extensive biodiversity of the Rio Grande Valley and the economic effect of ecotourism here, particularly by birders, Winters described the various age appropriate educational programs available at the birding center.
As they toured the year-old, 40-acre site, which includes an interpretive center, trails through one of the country's largest butterfly gardens, two wetland ponds and numerous observation decks, Winters quickly pointed out pink and purple dragonflies, two different species of egrets and the elusive green kingfisher to an excited, awed group of students.
"You are getting to see a bird that people come from all around the world to see right here in the Valley," said Winters, as she alerted the class to the swift flight of the kingfisher across one of the wetland ponds.
Rebecca Gonzalez, a UTPA doctoral student in business, who took the class as part of a requirement to take three classes at the master's level outside the College of Business, said the course had been very enlightening.
"It's been interesting to see how environmental science is so related to everything - business, communication, behavioral sciences. As business students we were also asked to look at the economic perspective of these different centers," she said.
Lee Keyes, a fifth grade teacher at Flores Elementary in La Joya, said the course has given him a better understanding of nature and has equipped him to teach his students how to appreciate their environment.
"I would recommend any and all teachers to take this class. This is a good way to incorporate all the different sciences into your class and also teach environmental safety at the same time," he said.
For more information about the TES class, contact Ibrahim at 956/384-5003 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org Information is also available from the TCEQ Web site at www.tceq.state.tx.us